One-fourth of top management positions at the Department of Homeland Security remain vacant as of May 1, according to a congressional report released this week.
The report, (PDF) prepared by the majority staff of the House Homeland Security committee, found that 138 of 575 top decision-making positions within DHS remain unfilled, and the department is not even looking for people to fill many of them.
“The gaping hole in Department executive resources is a homeland security issue that must be addressed and rectified immediately,” warns the report.
A DHS spokesman challenged the report’s tally, saying that it is skewed by a sudden expansion this spring in the number of top management jobs. Before then, only 12 percent of positions were unfilled in a department that has always been thinly staffed at headquarters, spokesman Russ Knocke said. . . .
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (Va.), ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, agreed that the inability to fill jobs is creating problems within DHS offices. While walking in his district yesterday, Davis said, he met constituents employed at an immigration agency who described lower morale because of the vacancies. . . .
Knocke said Congress has “sent the wrong message to employees” at times by attacking individual appointees and agencies, rather than “ensuring that they have confident leadership in place and the support of Congress behind that leadership and that agency.” — Washington Post
In the past, top positions at DHS were filled by political appointees without enough experience, if they were filled at all, contributing to persistent morale problems, poor job satisfaction and inefficiency and mission failure within the department. Department officials told the Washington Post that they are now looking for experienced personnel for top management positions instead of political appointees.
As the report notes, the department’s top management is still almost entirely comprised of political appointees, potentially leading to a crisis in 2009 with a change of administration, as those appointees leave.
“But unless these positions are filled in the next few months mainly by qualified and experienced career civil servants who will have time to assume the main Department functions, the problem will remain,” the report concludes. “And so will the enhanced threat to homeland security.”
This is, of course, what happens when you ask government to do something important, and why it so often fails at its mission.